Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Music of 2007

This post originally appeared in the Tompkins Weekly under the title, "Worth a Listen: Favorites from 2007"

It is that time of the year again:
the season of best of lists. I, for one, am completely addicted to year-end best of lists. So in the spirit of the occasion here is my offering. I, however, am not going to call my list, “The Best Music of 2007.” Music is far too personal and people’s tastes vary too greatly. Instead, I am going to offer up a listing of music, and a book, that had an impact on me this year. So, without further adieu, and in no particular order here it is.

Radiohead In Rainbows. There was a great deal of discussion about how this was released by Radiohead online. So as the dust settles from the tumult of the way Radiohead released the music and I listen regularly to In Rainbows, it is truly an excellent album. It deftly bridges the styles and elements the band has been exploring in its 7-album career. And, at a time, when so much of the music being released has no edge and no challenging elements, Radiohead pushes its listeners to follow them on their musical journey.

Wilco Sky Blue Sky.
“Maybe the sun will shine today.” These are the words that open Sky Blue Sky from the song “Either Way.” They are a perfect summary of Wilco’s music: beauty and dissonance coming together to craft some of the best rock music being released today. While the lyrics aren’t always clear, the way the musicians play together creates some marvelous layers that beg you to listen with headphones on.

Pearl Jam Live at Lollapalooza 2007. This iTunes only release finds Pearl Jam in blistering form. While the band also released a large live box set in 2007 chronicling their performances at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State, this is the economical place to turn. This 21 song set is the fiery performance that closed the 3 day long Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago in August. The band blazes through a career spanning set that has all the elements of the personal and the political that have kept me listening to them. While Eddie Vedder is a great front man and Mike McCready is a totally underrated guitar player, what this performance really proves is that Pearl Jam is still relevant and playing compelling music.

Feist The Reminder. In some ways, 2007 was the year of Leslie Feist. She had arguably one of the most recognizable songs of the year with “1, 2, 3, 4.” For me this is usually not a complement. More often than not a song that has become ubiquitous is also just plain annoying. Not so with “1, 2, 3, 4” or with the rest of the album. The Reminder, filled with lovely well-crafted songs, has remained a staple of my listening since its release in May.

Battles Mirrored. I don’t usually listen to prog rock or math rock or however one might attempt, without much success, at defining Battles. The band’s music is mostly instrumental rock. What words there are in the music are pretty well integrated into the whole mix. This is a fascinating record to listen to that continues to show that the music coming out of NYC is really interesting these days. I certainly don’t listen to this band all of the time, but when I do I am treated to a wholly original band playing music that I can’t help but be drawn into.

The Shins Wincing the Night Away. The Shins hail from Portland, OR (where I went to college), so I automatically had to check them out. Permit me a side bar about Portland. I lived there during the heyday of Seattle Grunge, which more or less passed Portland by. However, now with The Shins and Modest Mouse hailing from there, it may finally be Portland’s day in the sun. James Mercer is the singer and songwriter for the band and the man writes some killer melodies. Be it the can’t help but shimmy to it “Australia” or the achingly lovely, “A Comet Appears,” Wincing the Night Way marks The Shins as a band to watch.

Bjork Volta.
A new release by Bjork is always welcome. She constantly experiments and the results are always intriguing. This album finds her collaborating with more people in the making of her record, including Timbaland.

The Good, The Bad & the Queen The Good, The Bad & The Queen. Take the singer/songwriter from Blur and the Gorillaz, add the bass player from The Clash, The Guitar Player from The Verve, and the drummer from Fela Kuti and what do you get? TGTBATQ. This mix, which could have possibly been a train wreck of styles, turns out to be one heck of a band. They actually call it a project, though. Band, project; whatever you call it, this collaboration works. And with lyrics that comment on the current state of the world it is the perfect soundtrack to 2007. “Kingdom of Doom” is a great example. When Damon Albarn sings, “Friday Night, In the Kingdom Of Doom/ Ravens Fly/ Across the moon/ All in Now/ There’s a noise in the sky/ Following the rules/ And not knowing why,” I couldn’t help but feel that he was taking our pulse. This might be my favorite album of 2007.

Amy Winehouse Back To Black. I really didn’t want to like this CD. Heck, Amy Winehouse is all over the tabloids. Be that as it may, this is some great music. Amy Winehouse has a great, soulful voice that defies her age. Her first album was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2003. So here’s to hoping that she can get herself sorted out and continue to make more great records.

Once Soundtrack. I actually haven’t seen the movie that this soundtrack comes from. The good news is that these songs stand up well removed from the context of the film. This, certainly, isn’t always the case. The music by The Frames Frontman, Glen Hansard (who first came to light in the movie The Commitments, and Markéta Irglová from the Czech Republic is really wonderful. To my mind, though, it is Markéta Irglová’s involvement that truly makes this such great listening. Moreover, this record contains one of my favorite songs of the year, “Falling Slowly.”

And lest I forget, there are two other albums that came out this year that I have just begun to digest, but wanted to mention: Bruce Springsteen’s Magic Modest Mouse’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Even in the beginning stages of listening to these records, it is clear that they certainly need to be included on this list.

Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield. Do you remember making mix tapes? I do. Do you remember the moment you realized how deeply you were in love with your partner or spouse? I do? This wonderful book by Rob Sheffield, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, is a punk rock love story that tells the story of meeting and marrying his wife and what happens after she dies unexpectedly. This is all framed around the many mixed tapes and music that were a part of their relationship. I really can’t recommend this book enough. It is ultimately a story of love, loss and the incredible power of music to connect to the deepest parts of who we are.


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